The ‘Billion Tree Tsunami’

Published: March 1, 2015
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The writer is a former minister of state for environment and the Global Vice-President of the IUCN. He is also the chairman of the PTI Green Growth Initiative in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and can be reached @aminattock

The writer is a former minister of state for environment and the Global Vice-President of the IUCN. He is also the chairman of the PTI Green Growth Initiative in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and can be reached @aminattock

“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” —Robert Swan 

Unimplemented manifestos and hollow sloganeering have been the unfortunate hallmarks of Pakistan politics. Being a party advocating reform and change, the PTI is now endeavouring to shift this perception. The Green Growth Initiative, launched and currently underway, in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) has been a step in that direction. The most obvious litmus test for any such initiative, however, lies in translating it into projects on the ground and allocating them a share out of the budgetary pie. This important step was diligently followed last year and culminated in a stream of projects one of which is the Billion Tree Tsunami.

After going through a detailed consultation and development process, this flagship project is now clearly defining new frontiers for growth and protection of K-P’s forests. These forests can truly be termed the lungs of Pakistan — as they constitute 40 per cent of the country’s forest cover. Overall, Pakistan’s forest cover is a paltry four per cent of land area, which is one of the lowest in the world and much lower than the average of 35 per cent present in environmentally healthier countries. In addition, even this meagre forest cover is under threat with one of the highest deforestation rates in the world.

These trends are not only shockingly unacceptable but are now a direct threat to the country’s sustainable future. Owing mainly to its geography and topography, Pakistan is now considered one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change impacts. The melting glaciers in the north, erratic monsoon patterns and repeated devastating floods in the past few years have been a stark reminder of the devastation and infrastructure loss this vulnerability can cause. The ever-thinning forest reserve not only multiplies the loss due to climate change but also weakens one of the most effective tools that Pakistan has for not only sequestering carbon but also building local resilience to the impacts of climate change.

The K-P government has now committed to not only reversing the high rate of deforestation but also shifting the current philosophy from treating forests as ‘revenue’ machines towards preserving them as valued ‘natural capital’. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, the forest area in K-P is targeted for a major enhancement from 20 per cent to 22 per cent by 2018, which would entail bringing new area under forests as well as protecting and enriching the existing area. Thus, under the project, at least 30,000 hectares of additional forests will be planted through a massive afforestation drive. In addition, through enrichment measures, the tree cover in existing forests would be targeted for increase from 20 per cent to 30 per cent by 2018. This would entail protection and gap plantations in, at least, 27,000 hectares each year. The above ambitious targets would be achieved through the massive four-year Billion Tree Tsunami project, which is now underway.

The project has been designed with various innovative features, which are breaking new ground in K-P and aim to ensure the long-term sustainability of this drive. Under this project, small-scale ‘eco-preneurs’ are being created in the province by privatising various facets of forest growth and protection. In this regard, firstly an innovative programme for establishing ‘youth nurseries’ has been initiated. The government is encouraging local villagers to set up small nurseries (20,000-25,000 plants), which will have secure buy-back agreements with the Forest Department generating an income of between Rs12,000 to Rs18,000 per month for the local youth — thus providing green jobs with dignity for the youth of K-P. This programme is already underway and is backed by a detailed village-level GIS mapping done for the whole province.

Secondly, the project innovatively focuses on outsourcing new forest growth to the private sector — in addition to creating more eco-preneurs, this will also ensure survival of planted forests through performance-based payments spread over a three-year period as the saplings turn into trees.

Thirdly, for forest protection, the local communities being traditional custodians have been extended responsibility for ‘forest closure’ to ensure protection and enrichment of the forests. Under a partnership agreement with the government, they will be allowed to train and hire local ‘Forest Nigahbans’. This initiative will be financed by the government and provide more jobs for the youth and ensure responsible protection of forests.

The government is also in the process of establishing rules for REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation-plus) to capitalise on latent carbon benefits and transfer these benefits to the communities. In addition, a complete ban on cutting and felling of trees in the reserved forests of K-P and ensuring complete transparency through independent third-party monitoring utilising tools such as GIS monitoring and Google Forest Watch are other features of the programme. All these steps have been complemented with a crackdown against the powerful timber mafia, which has brutally shaved off more than Rs100 billion worth of natural forests in the past 10 years. The K-P government has publicly vowed to curb their activities, cut off their sources in the government, raise and strictly enforce penalties, enhance satellite real time monitoring and have a zero-tolerance policy towards their nefarious activities and reclaim nature from these mafias.

The Billion Tree Tsunami is a unique project extending a win-win opportunity for K-P, Pakistan and the world. For K-P, it is enhancing forest cover while generating green jobs for the youth. For Pakistan, this project will enhance water availability, reduce soil erosion and increase resilience against climate-induced floods. For the world, this project will sequester carbon and contribute towards global climate mitigation.

Overall, the Green Growth Initiative of K-P, embodied by projects such as the Billion Tree Tsunami, aims to create a paradigm shift in K-P’s growth trajectory — leading to prosperity, poverty reduction and a better quality of life for the people while fulfilling the imperatives for a cleaner environment.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2015.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Toticalling
    Mar 1, 2015 - 1:35AM

    The author has done thorough research before writing this piece. I agree with his findings and views all the way.Recommend

  • Dr Musadik Malik
    Mar 1, 2015 - 4:11AM

    This is the same guy, who refused to shelve the environmentally disastrous “New Murree Project”, a brain child of Musharraf. But, SDPI, and civil society
    had head-on with the same minister on cutting of 25 million conifer trees and ultimately won the this historic battle. Malik Amin Aslam Khan, himself defending the of Rs40bn tourist resort and township project spread over 4,000 acres of reserved forest land in Patriata, north of Islamabad, that could well have had severe ecological and social implications. Apart from causing environmental harm in the Murree area, the project would also have had a negative impact on watershed conditions, affecting the quantity and quality of water supply to areas as far as Islamabad. Risks of physical disaster, caused by landslides, would also have increased. Recommend

  • Malik Amin Aslam
    Mar 1, 2015 - 7:27AM

    Please get your facts right Dr sahib.

    I agree with the disastrous effects that the “New Murree” project would have caused and as Minister Of State LED the fight against it by OPPOSING not just that project but also the project to create “ISLAMABAD CHALETS” which were supposed to be built in the Margalla National park.

    My opposition to both is on OFFICIAL record and known to all – especially SDPI which has been a partner with me in this and many other endeavors for sustainability.

    Being a Minister, I was the ONLY official to participate in the civil society campaign/ meetings against them. These were projects on which many NGOs cooperated and collaborated, in a rare show of solidarity, to raise a strong concerted voice – and it worked. A well researched and convincing case for sustainability could, thus, be presented.

    I believe such civil society activism is an absolute must for any environmental success.Recommend

  • raider
    Mar 1, 2015 - 9:04AM

    what a intuitive and with sustainable effects in long run project after having long awaiting, carry onRecommend

  • Shakeel
    Mar 1, 2015 - 11:17AM

    Excellent piece of writing, Malik Amin also supported the SDPI and Civil Society Campaign against the New Murree Project even when he was State Minister and he played a good role in convincing government to shelve the project, Recommend

  • Aftab Rana
    Mar 1, 2015 - 12:03PM

    Every good initiative should be appreciated even it is about planting a single tree. I think it is a very good start although late but lets appreciate PTI Government efforts for taking issue of deforestation seriously. It should not end up as a campaign to gain some political gain but efforts should be made to ensure the long term sustainability of the trees planted under this campaign by involving local communities in the management and protection of these plantations. Recommend

  • N.Sid
    Mar 1, 2015 - 7:19PM

    Trees are veritable lungs of the earth. They produce and replenish oxygen, absorb carbon contents, absorb noise pollution, provide shade and is the main source of rain with osmosis and evaporation. They provide resting place for all types of birds and helps in containing the global warming.

    Pakistan is a water stressed country with glaciers melting at an unprecedented rate due to environmental degradation, the forest cover is a paltry 4% against the global requirement of 25-30%. So the billion tree Tsunami has a billion benefits for not just for the people of KPK and Pakistan, but for all the humanity, and the world.

    Great green growth initiative. Recommend

  • N.Sid
    Mar 1, 2015 - 7:25PM

    This type of initiative by the US at the time of great depression in the 1930’s by president Roosevelt which helped United States to came out of it.

    During the Great Depression of the 1930s, President Roosevelt’s CCC put 3 million young men to work across America. Living in camps across all 48 states (and the territories of Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands,) the men of ‘the C’s’ created camping areas and hiking trails in State and National Parks, built roads, fought forest fires, constructed dams, and planted 2.3 billion trees — half of the trees ever planted in the U.S. — all for $1 a dayRecommend

  • Ali Jan
    Mar 1, 2015 - 9:24PM

    Shelving of ‘New Murree’ project proved that a civil society environmental campaign is not akin to banging one’s head against a wall, but in fact a well coordinated and effective campaign can ultimately bear fruit. I played a small part by setting up the first dedicated anti-New Murree web presence that registered thousands of clicks and raised awareness about the issue.
    PTI’s Billion Tree Tsunami is a great initiative. Thanks for the articleRecommend

  • Lobster
    Mar 1, 2015 - 11:28PM

    NS new spin doctor, Dr Mussadaq Malik, who was himself part of Musharraf’s team is trying to twist facts. Recommend

  • Parvez
    Mar 1, 2015 - 11:40PM

    Good intentions and good plans and projections mean nothing if the will and the force to implement them is lacking. Most of our schemes look brilliant on paper and on the first day when the minister plants the first sapling ……thereafter its always downhill. Lets hope that you’ll have girded your loins to take on the dreaded ‘ timber mafia ‘.Recommend

  • Shahzain Khan
    Mar 2, 2015 - 8:37AM

    How ironic calling an environmental program a tsunami?Recommend

  • Abdullah
    Mar 3, 2015 - 12:39AM

    Thanks for the article, good to hear from Mr.Amin Malik , keep up the good work sirRecommend

  • Elahi
    Mar 3, 2015 - 9:15PM

    Good to see someone is worried about future. Recommend

  • Nafies
    Mar 4, 2015 - 7:53PM

    Appreciate the transparency and clear direction offered in this article to the citizens of Pakistan.This should be encouraged across the board. Recommend

  • Nafies
    Mar 4, 2015 - 7:58PM

    I do believe this worthy initiative could have done away with the PTI tag line of “Tsunami” – a very poorly chosen term used by Mr. Imran Khan who seems to be oblivious to the negative associations with the word given lives are always at risk when facing a Tsunami. Recommend

  • Apr 24, 2015 - 1:20PM

    @Toticalling:
    i belong to botany sbjcts and im intrsted in plantation and ecology. i want to join such organizations
    … can you help mee???Recommend

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